Build a Modular Storage Bed for Cheap in Like, 5 Seconds. and Save the World a Little.




About: Creative Strategist who likes to build & write stuff. Blog: Twitter:: @katibren

My other half and I are nomads currently living in Boulder, CO, til we figure out our next move. Being nomads means we've been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a few months. Urban camping is fun for awhile, but we needed a change. When he went away on a business trip recently, I decided to surprise him and make us a bed. Plus it had been awhile since I built something and my brain was itchy. I captured the process with my iPhone. 

Here were my design protocols for the bed building project. 

1. Storage underneath. I drag a lot of books around.

2. Simple to Build - I don't have my power tools with me, so it had to be simple E.g. No sawing or cutting to size.

3. Simple to Dismantle - For fun, I also decided to see how I could get away with out drilling or nailing stuff together. 

4. Inexpensive - the budget was $23. 

5. Bonus Protocols :: Has to look good, be sturdy, & it has to be possible for one person to carry & transport the materials without a truck or van. (Bike transport possible if you have a bike trailer!)

Here's what I did and how I did it. 

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Step 1: Step 1 Gather Ideas

First, I looked up what others had done for building a quick bed to get ideas. There's this guy who put a mattress on top of his file boxes. Clever! But I didn't have storage boxes like that and I wanted something a little more interesting. Then I looked up some other platform beds, but most involved sawing and screwing (imagine that.)

Finally, before heading to a retail hardware store like the famous McGuckin's of Boulder, I decided to go check out ReSource, an architectural & building salvage shop in town. I'd check out McGuckin's later if I needed to. I'd been going to these places for years for other building projects but I wasn't sure yet what I'd find there, or how I'd do it. (The places I've been to are Bring in Eugene, OR, Build It Green in New York City, and ReStore in Philadelphia, PA. IF you're lucky, there might be one in your city too.) 

Materials I considered included ::

1. Pallets (too splintery and not enough storage)
2. New 2 x 4s or 2 x 6s with plywood or OSB combo (ruled out because of budget, sawing, & screwing)
3. Salvage dresser drawers (could have structural issues),
4. Salvage doors (a good choice for size & sturdiness, but not in the budget, and what would they rest them on?) and
5. Old milk crates (not so easy to find these days, also they're plastic, I like natural materials better.)
6. Scraps of hardwood flooring
7. Salvage cabinetry

Check out Step 2 to see what I picked.

(Note, photo credit for the cabinet picture:: ReSource website.)

Step 2: Step 2 Choose Materials

Guess what won? If you guessed old kitchen cabinets, score one for you, my friend! 

They're structurally sound, inexpensive and include storage. High five.They might not match exactly, but I like to mix things up a bit. I also picked out some scrap OSB for the platform top. (They were signs for a political campaign. Thank you, responsible political candidate.)

Here's how to pick the cabinets & material for your own modular storage bed ::

1. Measure:: If you're like me, you don't carry a tape measure with you everywhere you go. But I did have an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper. What you're looking for is similar widths, because you'll be laying the cabinets on their sides. Original height & depth don't matter as much. I picked 15" wide wall cabinets.

2. Price:: The range at ReSource for cabinets was between $5 - $20. This is easy, pick the $5 cabinets with similar widths. Check out the joints to make sure they are solid. 

3. Style:: I chose three cabinets that just had one door. Easier for storage. You don't worry about being matchy matchy, if that's not your style. If it is your style, consider painting mismatched cabinets the same color to make the look more uniform.* This will add to your project time, and the messiness factor. 

4. Platform Top:: Pick pieces of plywood or OSB large enough to span the cabinets. I found scraps of OSB in close enough to the right size. The OSB spans the cabinets to make a platform, the mattress goes on top of the 

5. Hardwood Flooring Pieces:: Pick up a few pieces to lay underneath the cabinets. The pieces act as a floor protector. 

*Tip:: If you want to paint your modular bed cabinets, check out "mistake paint" at the hardware store. You can get $50 gallons of paint for about $3-5 American bucks. 

Step 3: Step 3 Build Your Modular Bed

Technically, you might call this "arranging". Here's what I did. 

1. Dust off the cabinets and wood scraps with a wet rag. They're dusty. Use a mild cleaning agent if you want. 

2. Clear space for the bed.

3. Lay down the floor protection if you have hardwood floors. See picture.

4. Arrange the cabinets however you want. I put them longwise (is that a word?) in the corners. See picture.

5. Put your platform material across the cabinets.

6. Throw your mattress on top of that. 

7. Put some stuff in the cabinets. 

8. Make your bed and lie in it. 

9. Congratulate yourself! You built something, saved a bit of the earth by using salvage, and you now have a real bed to sleep on, with storage, that you made for about $23 dollars. 

With a little more time and material, you can also give the bed a more finished look by filling in the gaps between cabinets using either wood or attaching fabric to cover the gaps. 

Bonus:: Notice that in addition to the cabinets, there's also a large swath of storage space running down the middle of the bed. I put our camping gear in that space. 

Easy enough that a baby could do it. But also way cool.

So, my friends, what do you think?

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    28 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Thanks for the tips. I have a 3/4 bed that I want to use in a project. I want to finish a 16x24 cypress house shell. Big plans, huh? :) Any way, I'm going for cheap chic. No one has a frame of that size and I had rather spend the $150 on something else. The cabinets would certainly have a double life, bed platform and storage. Wish me luck on the little house. It really is a shell! No walls, just wiring.


    2 years ago

    Awesome! thanks for this!


    3 years ago

    If Nomad is the concept I'd think you'd be better off selling those books and keeping your reading materials in e-format, like a kindle or amazon app on your tablet. 2 x 4's are only about $3 each. I can't see how that would be any more expensive than second hand cabinets that, frankly, could carry with them all sorts of infestations... Not to mention lugging around cabinets when you move in your Nomadic circle. Well done on being creative, though.


    3 years ago

    Who does not welcome additional storage space around the house right? And underneath the bed is definitely one of the perfect locations to utilize in order to create some room. Thus far, I have only been using bed raisers which help to elevate the bed by a few inches good enough for me to squeeze in some storage boxes which are clearly still insufficient. I think I have a few of the pallets and other stuff necessary to build this modular bed in my self storage unit which can finally be worked on.

    You don't really even need to build a storage bed, you can just buy a few containers that slide easily underneath the one you already own!

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    True, with a bed already owned, one can use totes or fabric cubes or boxes. Katie said in the opening paragraph their mattress was on the floor, so there was no bed to begin with. Her project solved two things at once for very cheap and creatively. I'm researching making it with some modifications.


    3 years ago on Step 3

    A Modular bed is an entirely different matter though! I can foresee this being the storage bed of choice for a lot of college students! It makes sense to be able to choose the kind of drawers you need underneath your bed!


    This was so encouraging to find as I hunt for a studio and fret about where everything will go. Great idea!


    4 years ago on Step 3

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! I WILL DEFINITELY be making these! I have SO little storage this will be the perfect project! THANKS FOR SHARING!


    4 years ago on Step 3

    I think I love this. omg thanks!!! It's just what I needed.


    4 years ago on Step 3

    I like it. I've been looking for ideas like this for my son who just moved out.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I have always liked the idea of storage beds. Not only are they more comfortable to sleep in because of their raised height as compared to other beds, but they also provide extra room to store those extra beddings or pillows. Since the storage is underneath the bed itself, people do not need to see the mess you have created. What an ingenious combination!


    This is bad ass. Not a nomad currently, but we have the boxsprings on the floor with the mattress and pad on top of it since we moved a year and a half ago. This would be a good idea if I ever decided to do it! The cheapest metal platform frames I've been looking at online clock in around $100 or a bit more so we've just been doing without so far. I like the cabinet storage idea!

    1 reply

    I got my frame at Waldo Mart(walmart) for less than $100....if I remember correctly, I THINK, it was about $65 or $70 in delivered to my door.

    It's not a fancy frame, but then again, I do not need fancy, just functional.

    BTW, my bed is a twin, NOT a full, queen or king size.


    7 years ago on Step 3

    I don't know the stress loads of OSB but any "extended" activity in middle of this might cause the OSB to fail. I've actually had OSB fail on me this way before, but because of a different activity. Maybe the distance in the middle is closer than it looks.

    4 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 3

    I would agree about the stress loads of OSB in that layout. I would suggest finding some 2"x4" pieces of wood the same width or slightly shorter than the total width of the cabinets; within 6" of the total width will work, so long as you don't lie on the extreme edges of the bed. Lay the 2"x4" pieces across the cabinets, and then the OSB. If it's time to move, take everything back to where you originally found/bought/"appropriated" it from. I would say three or four 2"x4" pieces would work well.

    MrMiz Good point about stressing the OSB. My plan for that is a milk crate full of books that I can slide into to the middle if I see an issue, or a builder can purchase a 5th cabinet. FYI so far so good, the setup is working. And smmiller506, yes definitely ""If it's time to move, take everything back to where you originally found/bought/"appropriated" it from."" I'll add both these points to the instructions. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    now far be it for me to tell you what to do or how to do it, so I won't even go there.

    having said that, because of the makeup of OSB sheet goods, experience has taught me to never trust OSB. Unlike plywood, OSB is made of slivers of wood all glued together....plywood is made of sheets of thin wood.

    OSB does not have the same strength as plywood, is very susceptible to ANY kind of moisture(not talking intimacy, but rather moisture in the air, spilled drinks, etc), and even though it does not apply in this instance, has a rougher texture than plywood. the rough texture has a tendency to trap moisture(barometric) & also has a tendency to harbor bacteria & parasites.

    This is what I have learned the hard way from experience.

    But let reiterate that I love your idea, I love the cabinets, & I love the fact that it is Nomadic like you & your other half.

    Definitely inspiring. TY for sharing

    ToolboxGuyKatie Brennan

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 3

    So nice to do the extras for him! :)

    I must say that I would still be very concerned for your lovely wood floors, as even mild movement will cause your sleepers to shift and scrape the floor. Perhaps a few well placed rubber backed welcome mats might work to protect the floor...?

    I'd suggest both cabinets 5 and 6 for this task. I weigh in at 132 kilos (300 pounds and 6'4"...) and I would assume you and he weigh less than me, combined. I'd be splitting the OSB if I rolled to the center, and I'd be a bit concerned for the cabinets should I put my shoes on while sitting on one corner of the bed. Your mileage may vary.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    COOL IDEA!! I never would have thought about kitchen cabinets..

    and according to the pics, you use them like mini lockers on their sides. AWESOME!!

    simple; cheap(inexpensive); easy build;....I love it! :)

    I'm in the designing phase of a bed with storage underneath...but I have a twin frame & mattress I'll be using(minus the legs)...I'm thinking big box(size of twin frame) with a bed that lifts up....hydraulic rams maybe for lifting? Not sure yet....but you have definitely inspired me to get working on it.

    TY Ma'am for sharng! I love it! :)